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The Forgotten Gem

PRCD 1178

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In choosing repertoire for this recording, the objective was to showcase the diversity of the instrument’s resources. The original Snetzler stops feature largely in the eighteenth-century repertoire, whilst the remainder highlights the more recent additions to the specification, and the versatility of the organ as a whole. The hymn tune bearing the name of King’s Lynn is featured, as sis music by two of the Minster’s former organists, Charles Burney and John Jordan.

The tune King’s Lynn is believed to have originated as a folksong, which was performed by a fisherman to Ralph Vaughan Williams when he visited the town in January 1905. The lengthy fable, known as Young Henry the Poacher, relates the cautionary tale of a boy who is  arrested for poaching in the Midlands and sent onboard a ship to Tasmania where he is sold into slavery. How such a story came to be told in Norfolk, history does not tell! The song was published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society in 1906. Vaughan Williams recorded the first verse as follows:

“Come all you wild and wicked youths wherever you may be,

I would pray you give attention and listen unto me,

The fate of us poor transports as you shall understand,

The hardships that we undergo, upon Van Diemen’s Land.”


In the same year, Vaughan Williams co-edited The English Hymnal, and it was for this publication that he arranged the tune for the G.K. Chesterton Hymn O God of earth and altar, Bow don and hear our cry; the hymn with which it is most commonly associated today (although a number of other texts are also regularly used). The melancholic sentiment of the lengthy sea voyage is maintained in the tune’s modality and rise and fall of the melodic contours. Percy Whitlock (who studied composition with Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music), assembled a set of Six Hymn-Preludes to be published in 1945 (their actual composition seems to span a number of years). The Hymn-Prelude on King’s Lynn is the last of the set, and affectionately develops the tune’s musical motifs within his characteristic idiom of colourful harmonies and charming eloquence.

John Jordan was Director of Music at King’s Lynn Minster from 1990 until 2006, where his legacy includes his vision for the completion of the organ. Taking up the position of Master of the Music at Chelmsford Cathedral at the age of just 24 (becoming the country’s youngest holder of such a post), he was later Director of Music at the National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, where he remained until his death in 2012. A regular performer and composer, his Folk Tune is a quintessentially English lyrical work, with a gentle pastoral lilt.

Johann Sebasrtian Bach’s Chorale Partita on Sei gerüsset, Jesu gütig is thought to date from  the time of his tenure as court organist at Weimar (1708-17), although it is possible that the work evolved over a number of years, with later additions and revisions. It is based on a penitential Lutheran chorale, usually associated with the following words:

Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig,                                      Hail to thee, kind Jesu,

über alles Mass sanftmütig,                                    meek above all measure,

ach! wie bist du so zerschmissen,                         Oh! How you are dashed to pieces,

und dein ganzer Leib zerrissen!                             and thy whole body torn!

Lass mich deine Lieb’ ererben,                               Let me inherit your love,

und darinnen selig sterben.                                    and die blessed in it.

After the simple four-part harmonisation of the melody, there are eleven variations, each developing the chorale in a number of ingenious ways, and displaying Bach’s Mastery of a variety of contrapuntal techniques and genres. The following description of the variations relates to this particular performance; as with most of Bach’s works, there is scope for differing interpretations.

Var.1: An extended, two-part variation, influenced by Italian Ritornello Arias and the elaborate ornamentation of Böhm and Buxtehude.

Var. 2: Arpeggiated harpsichordal textures, whose inner figurations are developed in inversion.

Var. 3: A perpetuum mobile, which becomes increasingly independent of the chorale as the continues figurations envelop it.

Var. 4: Scales are interspersed with an off-beat three-note figuration.

Var. 5: A lively and repetitive bass motif, similar to a French Basse de trompette.

Var. 6: A joyful Gigue.  Some versions exist with order of variations 6 and 7 exchanged (keeping the compound-time variations together) whereas the present arrangement groups together the five manual variations and the five succeeding pedal movements.

Var. 7: The first use of the pedal, to where the melody is transferred. Two imitative upper parts are dominated by suspirans figurations and highly expressive melodic leaps.

Var. 8: A swirling circulatio motif is driven by a rhythmic pedal pulse.

Var. 9: A trio texture with the melody proclaimed in the tenor part (pedals), set against two imitative and playful voices.

Var. 10: The most extended variation, showing Bach at his most accomplished. Sarabande-like in conception (similar to the final choruses of the St. Matthew and St. John Passions), it is propelled by a repetitive and insistent pedal ostinato. The chorale is declaimed triumphantly as a Cantus firmus in the treble, dividing into two parts towards its conclusion, creating gloriously rich harmonies.

Var. 11: A monolithic five-part harmonisation of the chorale, which mirrors the opening movement and brings the Partita to a grand conclusion.

Despite being blind from the age of two, John Stanley went on to achieve prominence as one of England’s finest musicians of the eighteenth century. He held several important posts in London, including organist at the Temple Church, and in 1779 he became the Master of the King’s Band of Music. He composed three sets of ten Organ Voluntaries, showcasing the emerging and distinctive sonorities of the era; in particular Diapasons, Cornets, Trumpets, Flutes, Vox Humanas and Bassoons. The Voluntary in D minor, Op.5 No.8 (1748) is fairly unusual in having three movements (most follow a pattern of a slow introduction preceding a fugue or an Allegro for a solo stop, occasionally with echoes). The influence of his great friend, George Frideric Handel, together with the Italian concerto style is found in  this Voluntary in particular. The first movement (Allegro) alternates a regal Ritornello for ‘Full Organ’ with arpeggiated and scalic passages for the (4-Foot) Flute. The second section (Adagio) allows for a moment of calm and expression as well as a lightness and delicacy created by the high tessistura, borne out of use of the Swell organ which only has a short compass. The final Allegro has a quasi-fugal exposition, whose thematic development is interspersed with violinistic episodes.

Nicolas de Grigny was a leading member of the French Baroque School, alongside Franҫois Couperin. His sole output for the organ was entitled Premier Livre d’Orgue, and was published in 1699 (with a reissue in 1711). Further volumes (if indeed intended) were sadly not forthcoming, due to his untimely death at the age of just 31. Aside from containing glorious music in its own right (including a Mass setting and Hymnes for principal feasts of the church’s year), it provides a window into the nature of organ versets which were regularly improvised as part of sacred worship. The collection was widely disseminated; Bach is known to have transcribed his own copy, and many of its characteristic traits can be seen in Bach’s works. Born in to a musical family in Reims, de Grigny ultimately held the position of organist at Notre-Dame de Reims; the place of coronation of French kings. This royal opulence and magnificence is apparent in the Récit de Tierce en Taille, one of a number of versets encompassing the Gloria of the Mass. It features an exquisitely decorative and expressive solo part in the tenor voice, enshrouded in a halo of rich chordal textures.

Charles Burney is perhaps best remembered as a musicologist and historian, having penned A General History of Music alongside other articles documenting his musical observations and experiences whilst travelling around both England and the continent. Growing up in Shrewsbury and Chester, he was an apprentice to Thomas Arne, through whom he had early exposure to the oratorios of George Frideric Handel. Burney had a successful career in London, although in 1752 he made the decision to move to King’s Lynn due to ill health. He was organist at St. Margret’s, King’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn Minster)from 1752 to 1760, during which time John  Snetzler was commissioned to build the new organ in 1753; this still makes up a large portion of the organ today.

The VI Cornet Pieces with an Introduction for the Diapasons and a Fugue were published in 1751. They were heralded as being of use to the young organist and practitioners on the harpsichord, and this convergence of organ and harpsichord styles is particularly evident in the florid Introduction for the Diapasons, which requires a delicacy of touch and nuance. It is not clear wether this movement belongs solely to the first Cornet Piece, with which it shares a key (as presented on this recording), or to the collection as a whole. It is possible that he intended an Introduction for each of the pieces; a format which was commonly found in the works of John Stanley. The style is particularly Italianate (the Introduction being termed Introduzzione in the manuscript), with much use of suspensions and sequences (durezze e ligature), improvised cadenzas, and ritornello elements.

Gaston Litaize was one of the leading lights amongst the plethora of influential French organists and composers in the twentieth century. A successful concert organist , touring throughout Europe, the USA and Canada, he also held various church posts, was a director of religious radio programmes, and taught at the National Institute for the Blind (he himself being blind from birth). A pupil of both Marcel Dupré and Louis Vierne, his musical style was visionary, often experimental and always containing a great sense of joie de vivre. Epiphanie, composed in 1984, is largely improvisatory in style (a skill for which he was particularly acclaimed), with joyous flourishes announcing the almost comical march of the Magi. Exotic harmonies help to conjure a sense of the Orient, and the coming of the Wise Men from the East.

Peter Racine Fricker was a twentieth-century British musician (later emigrating to the USA), who held the positions of Professor of Composition at the Royal College of Music, and Director of Music at Morley College. Compared to composers such as Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett (whom he succeeded at Morley College), he sadly tents not to be granted the recognition he deserves. One explanation may be that, as a composition student of Mátyás Seiber, his influences were very different from the affectionately-nicknamed ‘cowpat’ style of the likes of Vaughan Williams and Holst, and more akin to the spikey, chromatic idiom of Bartok and Hindemith. However, despite their chromaticism, his works always has a tonal centre and a high degree of lyricism, and it is therefore probable that with the changing tastes in music in the 1950s and ‘60s, this fusion  of styles became fashionable. The Pastorale, one of a number of organ works, is a fine example of his distinctive voice, and dates from 1959. It has a mesmeric, almost haunting tone, eventually coming to a restful conclusion in D flat major.

Max Reger produced a vast output of music in all genres except opera, although it is for his organ works that he is most revered. Despite the technical difficulties posed by their symphonic nature (Reger was first and foremost a conductor and pianist), they form a central part of the organ repertoire, marking a culmination of the Romantic tradition (incorporating the extended chromatic harmonies of Liszt and Wagner), whilst opening the door to twentieth-century Modernism. The influence of the Baroque era is also highly apparent in his use of counterpoint, formal structures such as Fantasias, Passacaglias and Fugues, as well as Lutheran Chorales.

The Sonata No.2, Op.60, written in his favoured key of D minor, dates from 1901; a particularly creative period in his compositional career. As the title suggests (Improvisation), the first movement is largely extemporaneous in style; a rhetorical and arresting first subject, contrasted with a prayerful, chorale-like second subject. Its themes are mostly derived and developed by means of motivic transformation. The music continuously builds towards a cadence, only to be left unresolved until the movement’s conclusion. The programmatic second movement, Invokation, is dark and mysterious, evoking the troubled Romantic soul and the unease of our earthly existence. Reger himself said ‘the piece is like a shrouded figure which can only be imagined, which can can should never be completely unmasked.’ The darkness is relinquished, as in many of his works, by an exquisitely ethereal rendition of the Christmas chorale Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, which acts as a perfect antidote and creates a feeling of hope and redemption (Reger himself was a devout Catholic, yet his prolific use of Lutheran chorales was central to his identity as a Germanic composer, continuing in the tradition of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms). The third movement comprises a playful Introduktion, followed by a chromatic Fuge, which builds to a kaleidoscopic conclusion as the fugue entries are superimposed and myriad keys are explored.

Programme notes by Francesca Massey

In memory of Paul Richards and his son Julian

Percy Whitlock

Hymn-Prelude on King’s Lynn

Johan Jordan

Folk Tune

J.S. Bach

Chorale Partita on Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gutig, BWV 768

John Stanley

Voluntary in D minor, Op. 5 No. 8

Nicolas de Grigny

Récit de Tierce en Taille (from Livre d’Orgue)

Charles Burney

Cornet Piece No. 1 with an Introduction for the Diapasons

Gaston Litaize

Epiphanie

Peter Racine Fricker

Pastorale

Max Reger

Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 60

Improvisation

Invokation

Introduktion und Fuge